Remembering the Nation's Fallen Astronauts

Remembering the Nation's Fallen Astronauts

Today is NASA’s Day of Remembrance, honoring the astronauts who lost their lives in the cause of space exploration.

The nation’s three human spaceflight tragedies occurred years apart, but on days very close to each other.  NASA commemorates all three on a single day.

On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 204 fire took the lives of the first Apollo crew.  Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed when fire swept through the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere of their Apollo capsule during a ground test.  The origin of the spark that started the fire was never definitively determined, but was thought to be from electrical arcing.  If launched, it would have been called Apollo 1, but is more commonly referred to as Apollo 204.

On January 28, 1986, the seven crew members of space shuttle Challenger (STS 51-L) were killed when an O-ring in one of the solid rocket boosters failed and caused a catastrophic explosion 73 seconds after launch.   NASA astronauts Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair, together with “teacher in space” Christa McAuliffe and Hughes Aircraft payload specialist Greg Jarvis, died.

On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia (STS-107) disintegrated as it returned from a two-week mission in space as the orbiter was torn apart by aerodynamic forces after superheated air (plasma) entered one of its wings through a hole and deformed it.   The hole was created by debris falling from the External Tank during launch.  NASA astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark, along with Israeli payload specialist Ilan Ramon, were killed.  

Today, President Obama issued a statement saying that “it is our duty to honor them the way they would have wanted to be honored — by focusing our sights on the next horizon.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, himself a former space shuttle astronaut, released a video message and paid tribute to the crews at memorials to them at Arlington National Cemetery.  A wreath-laying ceremony also took place at Kennedy Space Center.

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